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The rise and rise of South Africa’s soft citrus

The rise and rise of South Africa’s soft citrus © Eurofresh Distribution
© Alexandra Sautois, Eurofresh Distribution


South Africa’s tangerine/mandarin crop is projected to rise by 12% in the 2019/20 campaign, continuing the sector’s strong growth of recent times. Total production is estimated to reach 421,000 tons, mainly due to an increase in production area, normal weather conditions, and improved winter rainfall received in the main production area of the Western Cape. Moreover, many plantings are now reaching maturity. COVID had a minimal impact on labour supply.

South Africa’s tangerine/mandarin exports are expected to be up 16% in 2019/20 to 344,000 tons, due to increased production and the strategy of prioritising export markets over domestic markets. It is likely that COVID-19 has also driven demand due to the assumed health benefits of Vitamin C. Indeed, demand has been strong in the export markets, with the UK leading the way (26% of the total), followed by the Netherlands (21%), Russia (8%) and the US (6%).  

Many new soft citrus orchards in South Africa are under netting to improve water efficiency, yields and the overall quality. In addition, there is an increasing trend to plant late varieties, which has shifted the peak harvest of soft citrus from the beginning of May to mid-May, continuing through to July.

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Global citrus crop shrinks


The 2019/20 global citrus crop is down for all categories, except grapefruit. Orange production is down 11% to 47.5 million, due to weather-afflicted seasons in Brazil, the EU, Morocco and Egypt, with small increases in China and the US unable to compensate for these losses. The global mandarin crop is down 1% to 31.7 million tons, with drops in all major production regions, especially Turkey (-9%) except China.  The world’s lemon crop is estimated to be down 7% to 7.9 million tons, with Argentina (-11%), the EU (-13%), Turkey (-9%) and the US (16%) all suffering challenging seasons due to weather events. Mexico’s and South Africa’s lemon and lime production are both expected to be up. Lastly, grapefruit was the one citrus category that registered a larger crop in the 2019-20 campaign, with larger harvests in China, South Africa, Turkey and the US more than offsetting the 18% fall in the EU’s crop.

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Spanish citrus set for sharp fall in 2017/18

cit spain

Estimates for Spain’s citrus crop production for the 2017-18 campaign point to a general decline in output for all crops. The reduction in output is expected to be especially marked in tangerine group, where the fall is estimated at 16.1%, mainly due to the decline in satsumas (-29.7%) and clementine (-18.7%). Likewise, smaller reductions are forecast for orange (-10.6%), lemon (-8.8%) and grapefruit (-5.8%).

Forecast for Spain’s citrus production in 2017/2018 season

Source: Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture